Letter concerning exploration in the MIT first year & changes for incoming students

August 03, 2018

Dear Undergraduates,

I am writing to follow-up on an earlier note you received from Alexa Martin, the president of the Undergraduate Association (UA), about proposal to the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) outlining a potential experiment to investigate ways to promote greater exploration in the first-year undergraduate experience. The proposal was made possible through a marvelous collaboration between students, faculty, staff and administrators over the last year and incorporates some specific recommendations from the Designing the First Year at MIT course. After several rounds of revisions to incorporate additional community input, the final version was submitted to the CUP for review in late July.

We are pleased to report that the committee has agreed to move forward with an experiment. I wish to express my personal gratitude to the members of the committee and to CUP chair Professor Duane Boning for their efforts in this process.

What does this mean for MIT students?

  • First-year students entering during the Fall of 2018 will be eligible to designate up to three Science, Mathematics, and Engineering General Institute Requirements (i.e., 3.091, 5.111, or 5.112; 7.01n; 8.01n; 8.02n; 18.01n; or 18.02n) to be graded on a Pass or No Record basis (P/NR) after their first term. The first semester will still be graded P/NR, and the second semester ABC/NR. This added flexibility should encourage students to move some of their SME GIRs out of the first-year, providing more opportunities for students to take classes that enable them to explore majors and minors early in their time at MIT.
  • For all other current undergraduates, there will be no changes. As mentioned in the UA's earlier message, our goal with keeping all students in the loop has been to ensure transparency and to keep you informed about how we are implementing the ideas of many of your peers. We recognize the importance of upper-level student advice for first-year students, and we hope you will work with us to promote a more exploration-focused experience for the next generation of MIT students.
  • As part of ongoing community discussions this year, the CUP will solicit input and deliberate about possible additional experiments for first-year students entering during the Fall of 2019.


We are also moving forward related initiatives that we expect to be helpful to many current and future students, including exciting new scheduling tools, more detailed information for choosing a major, and the development of subjects to aid students in major exploration. Keep an eye out for more details, as well as specifics about the changes to the GIRs for first-year students entering during the Fall of 2018.

Our work, however, is just starting. The experiment that CUP advanced is part of a broader, ongoing effort to engage the campus on ways to strengthen the undergraduate experience at MIT. In the past few years alone, we have introduced new interdisciplinary degrees like 11-6, the NEET program, and student-led innovations such as x-terms. My thanks to everyone at MIT who is helping to lead us forward.

Finally, we are planning office hours and information sessions to provide opportunities for dialogue, including discussions about related recommendations stemming from the “Designing the First-Year at MIT” class. In the meantime, you can always reach out to us via email if you have questions or suggestions at ovc-fye@mit.edu.

I hope you enjoy the last few weeks of summer. We look forward to welcoming you (or welcoming you back!) to campus soon.


Ian A. Waitz
Vice Chancellor and Jerome C. Hunsaker Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics